Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Origin of the Christmas Tree

With Christmas just around the corner, for my next few posts I plan on writing about Christmas themes and symbols. There has been some discussion in my family about the meaning of putting up a Christmas tree, and whether we should or shouldn’t. When I put up my tree, by no means is to worship it. I do it strictly for the beauty and enjoyment and there are many years I don’t put up a tree of any kind. But could there be more to the story? I had heard that the tradition came from pagan rituals, but didn’t know the exact story. I decided to delve a little deeper and see what I could find. It seems my family is not the only one that can’t agree on an answer. There are several different explanations, but I’ll choose three to discuss. Beginning with the earliest reference we have to go all the way back to 700 A.D. The Vikings and Druids used evergreen boughs and trees in ceremonies to their gods. They used them as thanks for bountiful harvest and as hope for the Spring. At that time, surviving the Winter was very treacherous and many did not. To get them through the long, dreary, cold winter they would have festivals and celebrations, offering gifts and sacrifices to their gods. They chose the evergreen tree because it was a symbol of sustaining, everlasting life because it could survive the harsh winter and remain green. Even though they were worshiping false gods, the symbolism could be the same for our God. He is the sustainer and giver of life. Just as the evergreen is a constant, God’s love and presence is also a constant and everlasting.

The next reference begins around the 7th century when a monk from Crediton, Devonshire came to Germany to teach the word of the Lord. Legend has it that he used the triangular shape of the Fir Tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God's Tree, as they had previously revered the Oak.

Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century, when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreen boughs and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.

One of the scriptures used against putting up a Christmas tree is Jer 10:3-4
“For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.”
(NIV) If you read more than this scripture as an excerpt and read commentaries on this scripture, you will find that it is not referring to what we know as a Christmas tree at all. This scripture is in reference to a time of Babylonian rule and many people worshiped golden idols. The people that couldn’t afford a solid gold idol would cut down a tree and pay an artesian to carve it into the idol of the time and then gold leaf it so it would look like the golden idol.

And the debate goes on. I believe everyone has to make the decision for himself or herself based on their own relationship with Christ. I do think Christmas can be over done and that the focus can be distorted, but as long as you know without a doubt where your priorities lie, there is no harm in having a Christmas tree. In Isa 55:12-13 we find this scripture about an evergreen fir “Where once were thorns, fir trees will grow; where briars grew, the myrtle trees will sprout up. This miracle will make the Lord's name very great and be an everlasting sign [of God's power and love]. “ (TLB)


Anonymous said...

I like it! I would love it even more if everyone could just agree and get along on this matter. Anyway thank you and please write more.

Love you, Hester

Thare said...

When our friend called me this morning she was desperate to find answers about a the origin of the Christmas tree. I told her without thinking...I said " need to read By Grace Alone - it is perfect"!
Without mentioning your name...okay this isn't making sense...remind me next time we talk! GREAT MESSAGE! I agree with HESTER - everyone should just get along...and WRITE MORE! Loved it!!